For this week's movie review, I took on the second Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez adaptation of Miller's Sin City comics:
The comic's cartoon nihilism works in short bursts, as a kind of concise, witty send-up of old crime and detective stories. But on screen, at feature length, it's a drag — a movie with no hope or happiness, just two-dimensional doom and despair.
The whole thing is delivered in a hard-boiled style so inhuman and over-the-top that it verges on parody: Tenderness is replaced with lust, levity with comic ultraviolence. The characters all speak obsessively of blood and sweat and night and the pointlessness of everything, and after an hour or so, you start to see they have a point, if only about the movie you're watching.
The dialogue is so insistently one-note that when you leave the theater it's tempting to start talking in the same sort of gritty one-liners as the characters: It's a movie that runs you over like a semi-truck, with dialogue that explodes like broken glass in your ears. After a while, you wonder what the point is. You don't watch this movie — you take 100 minutes to stare at the void.
My friend (and Reason contributor) Sonny Bunch at The Washington Free Beacon took the Miller-esque reviewing to a whole different level. His review is worth your time, even if the movie isn't.
One of the things I didn't bring up in the review is how influential Frank Miller has been on the past decade or so of dark-and-gritty revisionist genre movies.
A lot of those movies, in particular the Christopher Nolan Batman films, which are heavily influenced by Miller's two classic Batman books, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, are really quite good. And even now, Miller's older comics stand up pretty well, especially TDKR and some of his work on Daredevil.
But later in his career, Miller just went off the rails. He had one idea—to reimagine practically everything as a grim, brooding, and often gruesome crime story—and he pushed it way too far, without much in the way of variation. His All-Star Batman and Robin was rightly ridiculed for reading like a parody of a grim, gritty Frank Miller comic. And by the time Holy Terror, a book that features a thinly-veiled stand-in for Batman exterminating jihadists in a mosque, came it, it went past ridiculous and into awful and offensive.
So part of what the one-note noirish bleakness of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which Miller co-directed and which is often as literal a translation from screen to page as you can possibly imagine, offers is a reminder of how fundamentally silly the purest form of that vision is, especially when you try to move it off the comics page and into the world of live-action. The audience at the screening I was at cracked up more and more as the movie went on, and not because it was supposed to be funny.
Check out Kurt Loder's review here.